Taking a slower approach and re-embracing physical books

The summer of 2018 was rough. I felt like I was in a tornado of awful. Every single day felt like my amygdala was gushing the fight or flight response to the point that I took a week of vacation just to get a short break from the near-constant roller coaster I was on.

I decided to try something slightly different on this vacation since I needed to slow down and escape in a major way: I booked a one-day/one-night trip and I bought a bunch of books, with a plan to spend the remainder of my time enjoying my patio with beverages and snacks.

Buying books before I take vacation is nothing new for me. I literally never go anywhere without books since I have my phone with me everywhere I go. However, for the first time in years, I bought physical books. And I wanted fluffy books. That second part I pretty much failed since I bought books that mirrored, in various ways, the tumultuous period I was living through.

Despite my questionable judgment about the suitability of certain books for light, escapist vacation reading, I really enjoyed settling in for a book that requires two hands and a light source to read.

Since last summer, I’ve doubled down on reading physical books, making sure I always have one on the go. I still read on my devices and listen to audio books because this allows me to read more books more quickly and I love to read as much as I can get my hands on.

But I’ve learned to appreciate the calm that descends when I’m surrounded by quiet broken only by the crinkly and swish of a page turning. I’m still a fast reader but sitting down to read a physical book forces you to pay attention and forego other distractions, except some background music to help increase my concentration.

As long as I’m able, I’m not going to stop reading ebooks but it’s been nice to get back to my old ways of devouring books that aren’t quite as easily mobile.

Good changes and getting back to being me

Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot of new things about myself and I’ve rediscovered things I’ve always known. It’s been quite an incredible ride and I’m enjoying a period of blissful quiet these days. It’s busy quiet, but mostly in the best possible ways. A lot of the quiet is due to my stepping down from my role as president of the WBN. I have more time to pursue some of the things I enjoy now.

Back in January, I started blogging again over on my other blog where I talk about marketing, writing and business. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sitting down to write again over the last couple months. I even managed to publish a post a week, which feels like an enormous accomplishment.

When the year was brand new, I also set a goal to read 70 books this year. I have an ambitious pile of books, but I’ve already managed to get through 23, which puts me 9 books ahead for this time of year. My reading pace in January and February was pretty intense. I’ve already slowed way down, but I’m enjoying reading in a way I haven’t in quite a few years.

I started reading ebooks way before they got popular. I was reading them on my Palm devices in the early 2000s. (In fact, the site I used to buy my books from is totally defunct now.) Last summer, I decided I wanted to really slow down during my vacation and I thought reading physical books was a good way to do that. So I stocked up on 3-4 books to keep me occupied during my week off and I spent as many moments as possible on our brand new patio.

Check it out! 👇 I miss patio weather right now most of all (go away, winter) and since I haven’t blogged about it yet, I can share it now and remember the loveliness of sitting out there on nice summer days.

Matt has some more work he wants to do in the backyard this year, and we’re hoping that we don’t have grubs return for a very long time. This was our second time replacing the grass since we bought our house.

I’ve been trying to be more intentional about taking better care of my physical, mental, and emotional health as well. The biggest change I’ve made is making sure I get in an absolute minimum amount of exercise everyday. For me, that equates to closing the rings on my watch (stand for one minute each hour for 12 hours, 30 minutes of exercise and burn X number of active calories).

This has been really helpful for me in working through some things. I’ve been doing more meditation and trying to ensure I get enough sleep. Though since I’m typing this at 2:47am, I suppose I’m never gonna be great at the getting enough sleep goal. Besides, I haven’t stayed up late writing like this in longer than I can even remember. So, I'm calling it a win. Especially since this is my fourth blog post I’m writing tonight. I’m on a roll and I’m taking advantage.

Outside of reading and writing, I’ve been advocating for children with autism - mine and others - pretty heavily this year. We had some good developments at Brandon’s school and I’m hoping we’ll be able to continue to work through anything that comes up as he moves into his last year of elementary school in September. Now, if we could get the government to roll back their hideous new Ontario Autism Plan. Parents all over the province are protesting in droves, including a 20km walk that’s scheduled for March 31 in support of a National Autism Strategy. If the government finally listens, it’ll be worth it for my kid and all the kids who need support.

It’s hard to believe my little man is turning 11 in a few weeks. He’s my musical partner and we’ve been having a blast going to musicals since last August when we both saw Wicked for the first time. We took a train down to Toronto and stayed overnight at a hotel, making it a little mini-vacation. We had so much fun we decided to go down again to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory during the winter break from school.

I don’t know why I didn’t take more pictures when we were back in Toronto for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But Brandon loved that show as well. It was our third musical and we saw Beautiful (The Carole King Story) a few days later back in Ottawa. This weekend, we’re going to see a show I grew up watching many times - The King and I. I don’t know if Brandon will enjoy it like I did as a kid, but that’s okay. I love how interested he is in musicals. And we’ve already got our tickets to go see Hamilton when it comes to Ottawa in 2020. Getting back into watching musicals has been amazing. Having Brandon take an interest too? I feel like I won the lottery.

As usual, the year is flying by so fast. I’ve officially hit double digits as a blogger, so I’m glad I’m still keeping it going even if the posts are few and far between. I think that will probably change now that I have more time to work on some of my hobbies and personal interests. So that’s something for you to look forward to!

Sometimes you have to get out of your head

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When Lara and I were running our business together, we started buying Leonie Dawson's journals to help us think about the previous year and plan for the new year. I've stopped buying them now because I never really have time to finish them and that bothers me irrationally. They're great tools to get you thinking about how things went, what you'd change and how you want to move forward. I did best with it the first year we got them. 

But my favorite part was a really short section that asked for a list of five things to do when a break is needed. The concept of identifying a finite list of ways to get out of work mode so I could return to a more productive head space was kind of revolutionary for me.

Since I'm going through my 52 Lists for Happiness in my own little way here on the blog, I immediately thought of that list when I came to the assignment about things that help you get out of your head. So, here goes:

  • Stories are the best way for me to turn off all the noise around me. I can escape into a book and let everything else fall away. (I try not to let it fall so far that the laundry doesn't get done.)
  • Music is so healing. I can be frustrated or mad and a fun song with a great beat will take me to a whole new space where I can relax and stop stressing.
  • Those days when you're hyperventilating and wondering how you're going to manage situations, there's nothing like having a chat or a glass of wine with a good friend. 
  • Taking a long walk helps me wake up when I need a jolt of coffee. And it can help me get out of a room so I can get out of my head when I really need to.
  • Movies and TV shows that have great storylines can be just as effective as a book for providing a vehicle to another world that doesn't share the same worries.
  • Getting immersed in creative writing can get me well and truly lost in another world. Unfortunately, it's not such a great way to pause work for only a short time unless that means hours or days.

I'd love to say I knit or crochet to escape, but I'm not consistent at practicing or even good at either one. I do both on occasion anyway. The jury's still out on whether such crafty activities are true escapism for me. I think I might be entertaining a fruitless idea that I'll one day be somewhat decent and grow to love them. I probably need to embrace my non-crafty status and stop buying yarn.

Please throw your own suggestions for getting out of your head in the comments - anything that works for you might help someone else. (Like moi.)

Doing the things I'm really good at is the dream

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I've been having conversations with family members over the holidays about life and what's been going on here in Ottawa with the Wilson crew. Some have been a little out of the loop because I've had some big changes that came with big time commitments and I haven't been good about keeping them up to date. (Fortunately, they're forgiving folks.)

The discussions I've had all led to questions about how I'm feeling about my current employment situation. I get accused of having a lot of jobs. If I included every single one on my resume (even the now irrelevant ones), yes, it would be a lengthy list. But I've stayed for as long as 6 years in one position. Also, I'm 40 and I work in tech, so "lifers" aren't that common. That said, I like to think about the future and how I want my career to look 2-5 years down the road. That's my version of pursuing the dream.

My favorite football team (okay, the only one I ever actually pay any attention to) just got a new coach. I found out that he's had some criticism that this is his third job in a year. No doubt, for a football coach, that's unusual. But then I found out that he said FSU has been his dream job. (He even wanted to play at FSU, but they didn't pursue him.)

For me, the narrative of that story changed completely as soon as I found out how much Willie Taggart wanted to be part of the FSU football program. He's been a class act since day one on the job and he led the team to another bowl game victory so they could finish out the season with a winning record - 41 years in a row, baby! He's off to a great start.

I can relate to what he's done. I started a job in August 2016 that I really loved. "Writer" became my professional title, not just a label I applied to myself. The role had potential to grow in ways I was excited about. And I was having a great time doing interesting work and getting valuable experience. When changes happened in that situation this past summer, I really struggled with the loss of all that potential growth - I just didn't see how I could take the next steps in my career in that company.

The struggle eventually led me to shift my thinking and look at my situation objectively. First of all, I couldn't let my discouragement about the changes poison my day-to-day work. So, I let that shiz go as much as possible. Sometimes it was a minute-by-minute choice. Then I had to figure out what I really wanted. A good friend helped me plan how I could take action to find the right next step for me. That was the point when I started seriously opening my mind to possibilities.

The next opportunity came along within weeks. The potential growth I was seeking with the job I took in 2016? That became a reality in 2017, though not at the place or with the people I thought it would happen. But that's okay, because it's so much better to be in the right place at the right time in the right role than to be loyal to something that doesn't work for you.

I'm good at building. I assess, make observations, figure out a plan, and execute. I love the intensity as you figure out what works and what doesn't. I don't even mind occasional late nights putting out fires. But I want to know that the end result of what I'm doing is valuable and appreciated. I want to be challenged and learn as I work. And I found a role that lets me write while I expand into other areas that I'm good at as well. So, I'm ridiculously excited about the future.

Looking back on 2017, it was a year of big changes. For me, for my little world, for all of us. If 2018 goes like 2017 has, it's gonna be a really fantastic year. Bring it on.

There's always a reason: Why you need to know your limits

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Back in 2012, a friend of mine, who happens to be editor of a local magazine, asked me to interview and write a story about a local speech pathologist who's doing some great things in her practice. After talking with her, I realized that a lot of what she does is rooted in one simple phrase:

There's always a reason.

Nearly 5 years later, that's the advice that sticks with me the most out of every little thing I have learned or been told about autism and helping my son learn how to navigate this world. I wish it was so internalized that I never forget it, but I'm not quite there yet. However, I'm starting to plant that seed in Brandon now.

We went to Costco one weekend a while back. My motivation was slightly selfish. I'd been wanting a Costco-sized vat of coconut oil, but Matt kept coming back saying they don't carry it anymore. It didn't seem possible that Costco would drop such a popular product so I made a rare appearance at Costco to check Matt's assertion.

Yes, I totally insisted we go to Costco on a busy Sunday afternoon just because I wanted a vat of coconut oil. Motivation is a funny thing, people.

Turns out I was right about Costco not getting rid of coconut oil. There on the right, just before we entered the gauntlet of people waiting for a cashier to check them out, was the object of my desire. I was tempted to buy two - yanno, just in case Matt's hunt and gather skills weren't the real issue. But I resisted.

With our mission accomplished, Brandon decided he was hungry. I'm pretty sure it's a conditioned response for him. He actually said looking at all the food was making him hungry. But I think at least part of it was knowing that Costco hot dogs are just on the other side of the cash.

Matt braved the line while I took Brandon to get food. 

We sat down after prepping B's hot dog and drink, surrounded by people filling their bellies after the harrowing experience of going through Costco on a Sunday. If they did a study, they'd probably figure out 99% of the people eating at Costco after shopping are stress eating.

It was noisy. However, there was one contributor to the noise that stood out from the rest of the din - a little boy who was around 6 or 7 years old. He was loudly and consistently upset for about 15 minutes. And Brandon noticed. Well, everyone did, but there were no dirty looks at his mother or the little guy that was having a rough time. 

Brandon made a couple of comments about how loud the "baby" was being. (He never actually looked for the source of the noise.) So, I told him that places like Costco and other big stores can be really hard on people - especially kids - because of the fluorescent lights, ambient noise and the sheer volume of people and things to look at. 

I told him about the time several years ago that he himself got tired of walking around and just laid down in the middle of an aisle and refused to move on. He'd had enough and couldn't cope with all the sensory information coming at him anymore. He didn't know how to say he was overwhelmed, so he communicated it in the only way he knew how: He stopped.

As an adult, I still struggle to recognize and stick to my limits. We get caught up in all the things we have to, need to, want to or should do and forget that we also need to stop the constant flow of information and other sensory stimulation in our brains so we can recharge.

Life happens and we keep plugging away because that's what we do. Kids haven't picked up that skill and, in a way, I hope Brandon never does. I'd consider it a great success if I can teach him to respect his own limits. For now, I'm working on teaching him to recognize them.

I've had a lot of extra stress that I've plowed through for months and I'm pretty exhausted. And I know it's impacting me because I have been sick at least once a month this year. But I've done very little to address the real problem. I just keep going.

But there's always a reason.

Whether it's a kid screaming in the middle of a crowded, busy store or an adult experiencing life stress, we all need to be compassionate with each other and ourselves.

I re-learn this lesson pretty regularly the hard way. Don't we all?